Janesville man says plant nips skeeters in the bud

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
— There I was, standing in mosquito Ground Zero.

Dale Kuecker had convinced me that the handful of crushed catnip in the band of my skirt will protect me from the swirling suckers in his backyard garden on Cherry Street.

Kuecker, 57, called the Gazette with his solution to bites after he read a Gazette article Tuesday about this year’s bumper crop of floodwater mosquitoes.

Kuecker is an outdoors person who fishes and gardens.

“I’ve always been a magnet for mosquitoes,” he said.

But Kuecker said he gets nauseous when a product containing DEET is put on his skin.

His search for protection over the years has led him to citronella bracelets, which he said he found to be about 90 percent effective. In mosquito-infested areas, he has to use multiple bracelets. He has tried Bounce dryer sheets, which he said he’s found to be about 80 percent effective.

But Kuecker is convinced that catnip works 100 percent. He breaks off a handful from a well-used plant in his backyard and rolls them in his hand to release the oils. Then he jams it into his left-rear pocket. He waits inside for about 15 minutes to let the scent permeate his clothes.

“You fool the mosquito into thinking you’re a plant,” he said.

Monday night, Kuecker said he fished more than an hour in a half-inch of standing water at the south end of Lions Pond near Rotary Gardens. There was no wind—“an absolutely perfect night for mosquitoes to attack,” he said.

Kuecker said he got bombarded but didn’t get a single bite.

The catnip fools the skeeters’ sense of smell, he said.

“They treat me like a plant. They don’t bite.”

Phil Pellitteri, the expert bug guy at UW-Madison, said there is a scientific basis to Kuecker’s claims. Researchers at Iowa State studied catnip and results “looked pretty good,” he said. But he’s not aware of any product on the market that contains catnip.

Pellitteri said he couldn’t recommend any home remedies.

Mosquito-repellent plants work when they are ground up for the oils, he said. Some of those on the market use eucalyptus and soybean oil.

Picaridin is another chemical-based repellent.

Oil-containing products seem to work in the short-term, but DEET remains the best option for longer periods of time, Pellitteri said. When used correctly, products with 20 to 25 percent DEET do not seem to pose health hazards for most, he said. People can also wear long sleeves and pants and spray their clothing with the product to reduce contact to the skin.

DEET works because it ties up a mosquito’s receptors, which are searching for lactic acid.

“It can’t tell the difference between you and a tree,” he said. “It gets three inches away from your skin, and it’s not cleared to land.”

So how did I fare standing defenseless in the middle of Kuecker’s squash field?

I got four bites in about 15 minutes.

I’ll probably give catnip another try, especially because I didn’t wait the 15 minutes before venturing into mosquito territory as recommended by Kuecker.

But I’m not throwing away my DEET products away, either.

Last updated: 2:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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